High-end tourism: new rules for new models

Luxury travellers demand new models to satisfy their hunger for discovery and cultural entertainment. Brands respond by investing in new projects and giving themselves new rules, commercial and product


9.5 billion dollars, globally, in 2023. 5% less than pre-pandemic levels, dating back to 2019, when travelling had become an almost weekly ritual. A beneficial return to the past for 34 nations has already converted into a mighty rebound, surpassing the results of four years ago. This is what is happening, in numbers and in facts, to high-end tourism, which is relaunching its own dimension and involving luxury and top brands in an irresistible game – that of dictating new rules to give life to new models. Increasingly exclusive, far from any disposable perspective, focused on a deep cultural instinct.

High-end tourism

According to Bain & Company, high-end tourism ‘is an asset for all countries, especially European ones. In the larger ones, such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Spain, this segment is worth up to EUR 20-30 billion. For others, like Greece, it comes to weigh more than 7% of GDP. It is the basis on which a sector that is today grappling with tourists who want to be considered ‘travellers’ and show interest in new destinations and, for this reason, demand new rules and new models for getting involved.

Europe rules

“Europe,” says Matteo Lunelli, President of Altagamma and ECCIA (European Cultural and Creative Alliance), “is the number one tourist destination in the world, and tourism is a strategic sector for the European economy. But there is still great untapped potential in the high-end segment. Although it only accounts for 2% of accommodation businesses, the high-end is worth around 130-170 billion euros and generates 22% of total tourism expenditure, thanks to a strong multiplier effect’.

The five largest European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) generate 75% of this value, and most visitors come from the United States. They were in 2022, and they are expected to grow again in 2023. Not only in the summer seasons but during the winter, they were flocking to ski resorts. In 2022, spending by US tourists in Italy exceeded EUR 7 billion: they are among the highest-spending travellers.

Traveller, not tourist

The case of American travellers is significant in drawing the profile of the luxury ‘new tourist’. Multicultural, and hungry for culture and lifestyle, they come to Europe because they are sure to find their still authentic quality experiences. Multi-passport travellers who bring with them cultures of various origins: representatives of the consumer class defined as Affluent.

They are young adults who travel and consume but in a careful way. In other words, with great sensitivity to the social and multicultural aspects of hospitality, seeking to learn about different cultures respectfully. They want to experience the history, art, culture and gastronomy of the places they visit. They seek unique experiences, not just relaxation and luxury for its own sake. Younger people aim for more lifestyle stays, often related to sports activities. The possibility of shopping is, of course, decisive, but it is the consequence of a travel choice. Not its primary objective

New rules for new models

Brands have already equipped themselves for a paradigm shift. And they are not ceasing to do so. For example, Prada and Moncler have been customising slots on Europe’s most prestigious ski slopes for two seasons now. Or: Louis Vuitton has declined its boutique concept in a travelling Mongolian yurt, creating a unique case of luxury nomadic living in the snow. It took it to Saint Moritz, personalising one of its iconic bags with the name of the town.

So did Dior with Porto Cervo, which allows us to remember that one of the latest trends in luxury fashion is represented by the brands that take over beach establishments, transforming them into veritable seaside clubs. This gives rise to products and collections based on the travel destination concept but personalised by the brand. This is nothing new, but what changes is the style. Much more refined, both aesthetically and in the way of reinterpreting the location with a contemporary and conceptual accent. Forget about dealing with banal, albeit luxurious, souvenirs.

Where to go, where to invest: a case study

Luxury invests in tourism in a binary way. In the sense that it works in a new course on classic destinations. But it also approaches new destinations, driven by the desire of ‘its’ travellers to be increasingly sophisticated in terms of the pleasure of discovery, but who soon get used to the higher levels of cultural entertainment they expect from travel’. Thus, staying ‘on the classic’, in the last two years, the Hamptons scene, a little over two hours drive from Manhattan, has seen more European designer boutiques – temporary or otherwise – flourish than ever, offering special collections designed on the spot. One result applies to all: the Louis Vuitton shop made the biggest bang over Memorial Day weekend.

In search of others elsewhere

The world of high-end tourism has its radar focused on evolved territories such as the United Arab Emirates that constitute an ecosystem with its own economy within a single, vast territory. And where it is no longer just the big cities that are of interest but also new macro-areas that, for example, are developing in their suburbs. There is a massive look and investment, creating interesting growth paths in Japan and South Korea.

Here, too, they are trying to build and, at the same time, take advantage of new travel routes. For example, it leads to locations where wealthy Koreans and foreign travellers experience leisure activities typical of the Californian coast but set in a completely new and highly exclusive cultural context. Or, one heads to South America, to Brazil, for example, where at least eight new cities, such as Goiânia, have become significant drivers of the national economy thanks to major real estate development. As well as places that demand to be discovered in terms of elite tourism.

In collaboration with Orietta Pelizzari (Cross cultural fashion business advisor)